Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Easter Weekend!

In France, the Monday after Easter (or Pâques), is a national holiday. Even though my friends and I are loaded down with schoolwork, we decided to profite and enjoy the weekend.

I had an exam the Friday leading up to Easter, and while I was walking home, I realized it was the first time since November that I could walk without feeling physically uncomfortable by the surrounding air temperature. I grew up in the southern United States, so cold and grey do not agree with my constitution. I found myself walking at a leisurely pace down Boulevard Saint Germain for the first time in months, rather than scurrying for warmth like I usually do.

To celebrate, I had un verre au terrace at a café near my place, and the walked to the Seine b/c I could. Snapped some sunset pics. Just cuz.

That evening, a friend invited me to a day trip she'd planned with a mutual friend to Fontainebleau on Saturday. We took a tour of the château and then rented bikes to bike over to the nearby town of Barbizon. What was supposed to be a 30 minute bike ride on a paved path ended up being a 2 hour mountain biking sesh through the forest of Fontainebleau. Gorgeous scenery. More of a workout than we expected, but we survived haha. Note to others: Barbizon has no buses and the cabs can't fit bikes, so if you bike there, you gonna have to bike your tush back, honey.

Bees have historically been the symbol for power and royalty, so Napoleon was sure to include a LOT of bee motifs. 

Nerdy selfie w/ my audioguide. There was a lot of history, ok?!

Ceiling shot.

Wall panel. 

The chapel. 

Napoleon's bed.

A stool in Marie Antoinette's ante chamber. 

Cute flower shop in Fontainebleau

On Easter Sunday, considerably more sore than usual, I biked over to the right bank to celebrate at a friend's place. I picked up some flowers as a hostess gift on the way. I noticed that peonies, my favorite flower, are finally in season! The weather was nice, so we decided to hang out at Jardin de Tuileries for the rest of the afternoon.

Windy and ominous, yet still sunny!

Peonies :)

Blue ballerinas for Easter!
The weather was gorgeous, even though we were hit by some intermittent showers. I had a great time with some of my closest friends in the Master's program. Spring in Paris is objectively amazing, but I think you really appreciate it when you've been through the winter. You feel like you've earned it. Every flower is blooming just for you :)

I hope everyone enjoyed a great weekend! 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Spring is Coming....

      One of the best things about having this blog is that I can look back to old entries from my first stay in Paris for guidance. Sometimes it's for factual confirmation: about when did the weather get warm here again? Other times, it's for nostalgia: can you believe that less than 5 years ago, I'd just eaten my first macaron? Better still, it's for signs of progress: thank goodness my french is better now, or, wow, there was a time when I really had a thing for french guys. Lol.

      Spring is almost upon us, and it couldn't come a moment sooner for me. This winter has been a grey one, but the lack of external light and warmth was more than compensated for by the warmth and light provided by all of the lovely people I've met in my graduate program here in Paris. Although I try to stay "present", I often use my college semester in Paris as a reference for my experiences here and now. I realized today, for example, that I wont be in Paris for Roland Garros like I was last time, which prompted me to realize that I won't be here as for as far into spring as I was last time, which is a serious dommage b/c I believe that there is no better place on earth to be than Paris in the spring.

      That being said, I came here this time on a mission: to get a master's degree in economic law. Last time, the goal was mostly to improve my french and to experience life abroad. And while this trip has surely been less fun-n-fancy-free than my first séjour here in France, I've been working hard to better myself and to create opportunities for the future. Last time, as the family and friends that suffered through my complaints remember vividly, it took me a long time to overcome my culture shock sufficiently to enjoy Paris. This time, the challenge has been managing my stress levels enough to savor the experience. It can be tempting to look at the past with rose-colored glasses, but sometimes an honest assessment will show you that you're actually making progress.

       Anyway, in the vein of my 2011 spring post, I'm going to post some pretty pretty pics of Paris in the spring. Though this time, I'd say that my photography skills have improved (see...progress!). I'll update this post as I take pics, but for up to the minute pics, follow me on Instagram (@lazeez90), where I will be posting at least a pic a day. Enjoy!

Monday, March 14, 2016


    So I'm back in Paris after Spring Break and just managing to get over a mini-flu, which was brought on no doubt by the rigors of long-haul international travel and dare I say...Tokyo withdrawals??

    For anyone who has not borne witness to my excessive photo-posting on Instagram (@lazeez90), I had an AMAAAAZING time in Tokyo. I managed to get one post out while I was there, so this post will cover the rest of what was a singularly amazing trip. I feel like I did a pretty decent job in terms of coverage. I hit:
  • Tokyo Skytree
  • Mori Art Museum
  • Mt Fuji day trip to Hakone
  • Saw Tokyo Tower at night
  • Harajuku
  • Meiji Shrine
  • Senso-ji (Asakusa Kannon Temple)
  • Mitsukoshi dept store in Ginza
  • A cat café
  • Onsen at a ryokan
  • The Samurai Museum
  • Robot Restaurant
  • A Japanese modern art gallery party 
  • ...and much more! 
    I'll pick up chronologically where I left off in the last post: in the midst of a nighttime visit to the Hanazono shrine, a quiet respite in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Shinjuku. It was already past 9pm when I arrived at the shrine, but I really safe during my entire time in Tokyo, so staying out late (within reason) was never an issue for me. It was the first time that I had seen a Shinto shrine in real life, along with the bits of o-mikuji (zigzag bits of paper used to tell fortunes at shrines) tied around pieces of twine. Apparently for a coin or two you can pull one yourself and have your fortune told...I guess this is sort of what fortune cookies in the U.S. are based off of? It was so nice being there alone at night, just picking up on all of the good vibes.

    The next day my first stop was the Meiji Shrine in Shibuya. To get to the shrine, you have to walk down a meticulously groomed gravel path in the forest park surrounding the shrine. You will pass under several torii gates on the way to the shrine, as well as walk by some (depending on the season) wine and sake donated to the shrine by japanese producers for celebrations. The straw coverings of the sake barrels were super gorgeous.

Once inside, I purchased an ema, a little wooden plaque that you can write your wishes on, and hung it on a rack with many other ema surrounding a huge tree. Later, the shrine monks will "send up" the prayers written on the ema ( though probs not mine, as it was written in english lol) when doing their daily prayers.

After the tranquility of the Meiji shrine, I headed back into the hustle of the bustle of the city (although first I stopped to nom on a bowl of kitsune udon). The jet lag was kinda slowing my roll, so I decided to check out a Starbucks (I know, "American", but I had a reason!) to get a caffeine fix. I fully intended on getting a regular coffee until I saw that the Starbucks carried the sakura (cherry blossom) frappucinos I'd seen advertised all over Tokyo, as well as during my layover in Shanghai. In the interest of cultural exploration, and frankly, in indulging my obsession with anything the color pink, I decided to give it a try.

Apparently this is an iconic store in Harajuku.

The frappucino, which was strawberry flavored with hints of cherry blossom flavor (as if I would know, frankly) certainly satisfied my need for pink. It ended up being just aight, but the cake was the real MVP.

Freshly sugared up, I was ready to take on Harajuku. In particular, I was looking for Daiso, a super awesome Japanese dollar store where you can get tons of #kawaii stuff for super cheap. Most things in the store are only 100 yen. I picked up a bunch of souvenirs for my friends and family without breaking the bank.

Harajuku fashion was really cute. In general, I noticed a lot of feminine clothing and pastel colors. Lots of emphasis on accessories. I didn't see any of the famous lolitas or any cosplayers, but perhaps next time.

They had these stores that were like a teen girl's fever dream with huge posters of J-Pop stars, vending machines and video games.

Aww the (unofficial) ambassador of signtseeing Harajuku is soooo cute! #kawaii
That evening, I joined my friend Claire for a gallery party in Harajuku, which was legit. I got to meet an artist friend of hers who had contributed art to the show. The show was put on to promote women in the arts in Japan...so cool!

The next day I made my way over to TokyoSkyTree: the tallest structure in Japan and second tallest structure in the world, after the Burj Khalifa. There is a fairly substantial mall under the tower, and I got crazy distracted looking at all of the Japanese fashion and cuisine on display. My sister and I are big fans of Rilakkuma (in English: "relaxing bear"), a Hello Kitty-like animated character created solely to "kawaii" the money right out of your wallet. Rilakkuma has a special SkyTree store, and let's just say yo girl was not ready. Was. Not. Ready. I'll spare you the selfies of me pretending to sleep on the stuffed animals. You get the idea. I just about lost my damn mind.

Sayonara, Felicia!

On the first platform

On the second platform. It's pretty bright up here...

After SkyTree, I took the train over to Roppongi Hills. Mori Tower is a great 1-stop destination in Roppongi, as you can visit the Mori Art Musuem and see Tokyo Tower all at once. I knew that Takashi Murakami had an exposition going on, so I made a beeline for that. The expo was great and more impactful than I had anticipated. I hope it comes to the U.S. next so I can see it again!

Mori Tower

After the Murakami exhibit, I went to the city view level of Mori Tower to see Tokyo Tower.  Man o' man, is it gorgeous. My last post talked about the similarities between Tokyo and Paris and I can't believe I forgot this one obvious fact: They both have their own Eiffel (esque) Tower.

Claire works at a super fancy Japanese conglomerate, so her employee i.d. gives her access to cool things, such as the city view level at Mori Tower. The city view level was also hosting a tech expo. Claire came and met me there, and we checked out all of the cool "the future is now" exhibitions on display that you expect to see when you go to Japan.

Little mice made out of hard drive pieces!

Modeling for Claire in a light display.

We went to dinner at this hip place in Roppongi and on the way Claire created a diversion while I snapped pics of the inside of the restaurant that was used in Kill Bill 1. It was more "faux-rustic" looking than in the movie haha.

Our resto was full of Japanese books. Feeling hella #intellectual for having read 1Q84 (in English, of course).

The next trip was day trip day: off to Hakone! Hakone is a small town about 2 hours outside of Tokyo that is famous for it's views of Mt. Fuji (hereafter referred to as Fuji-san) and the many onsens and ryokans that can be found in the folds of it's volcanic hills. I took a pirate ship (no joke, the boat was literally modeled after an English pirate ship, complete with a white dude dressed as a pirate and maps of England on the walls) across Lake Ashi, and from the boat I was able to get some amazing snaps of Fuji-san.

Let's be real, I came all this way for the special edition Kit Kat.

After the boat ride, I took a bus back to the train stop and from there I took a short shuttle to a nearby ryokan/onsen. The onsen/ryokan experience was probably my favorite experience of the whole trip. I didn't stay overnight at the ryokan, but I had dinner at their restaurant: udon and vegetable tempura. I'm vegetarian, and they were good about accommodating my dietary needs. A lot of japanese broths contain fish, but they made me a special batch :) Next up was the onsen. I opted for the public baths, which had indoor and outdoor bathing pools. The hostess gave me a funny illustrated list of japanese bathing etiquette. Most of it was fairly common sense. One of the funnier tips I saw in a chart posted in the locker room: "Don't wash your underwear in the springs". Has that been a problem before??

The water was super warm and relaxing. I loved looking up at the canopy of the forest above, which was lit from underneath, and the stars in the gaps in between. Super chill and authentic. I was the only gaikokujin there.

The next day was my last full day in Japan *sadface*. I met with Claire and one of her co-workers for lunch near her work in Chiyoda. Of course, on both of the two times I'm within a stone's throw of the Imperial Palace, it's closed...next time! I saw the iconic Tokyo Station, but it was undergoing some pretty extensive construction, so it was hard to get a decent photo. I took the train to Asakusa to see the Senso-ji Temple. It was pretty impressive. Hard to believe that you're still in the middle of Tokyo. There were a TON of people there, but still an enjoyable experience overall. There are some much calmer, quieter gardens right next to the temple, and if you like koi fish like me (which may or may not be inspired by Pokémon's Magikarp, not gonna say) you should definitely check it out. Like, my fellow gaikokujin and I were "oooh"-ing and "aaah"-ing over these fish, guys.

For good luck!

On the way back, I randomly came across a cat cafe. Originally, I was reticent to go to any animal cafés because I was concerned about the living conditions of the animals, but cats seemed ok b/c they're domestic and are accustomed to living with humans. These cats seemed super well cared for, as well. I'm not a cat person per se, but I can see why people love them. So agile. So pretty. And they will occasionally let you pet them.

That night, I finally made my way to Robot Restaurant. The ticket was kinda pricey, but I figured it would be fun, and it was my last night in Tokyo! The interior is amazing. Everyone should go just to see it, seriously. It's as if Versace dropped acid in a disco...in the future. And then designed a restaurant.


The show was fun! The whole thing was a fairly touristy affair. Actually, I was probably surrounded by more Americans at once than I have been since August. I went by myself, and perhaps it would have been funnier if I had someone with me to snicker with. But honestly, I have watched a decent amount of anime/japanese stuff in my day, so I wasn't particularly "tripped out" like the rest of the audience seemed to be. Kudos to the performers; it's a silly show, but the singing and instruments are being performed live, and the dancers's moves are on point.

There are still sooooo many things I'd like to do in Tokyo specifically and Japan generally, but they say it's always to leave something unseen in a place so you always have a reason to go back :) Specifically, I'm thinking:

  • An authentic Kabuki show
  • An art museum (or many) with exemplary Edo-era art 
  • Stay at a ryokan for a night or two 
  • Do some regional travel to Kyoto or even visit some of the outer lying islands like Osaka
  • See the inside of the Imperial Palace
  • Feed the deer at Nara
  • Check out the shrine at Nikko
I did my best to describe what I did and how much fun I had, but I think a huge part of what made this trip so great was the kindness of the people I met, and the generally welcoming attitude I experienced during my time there. I felt super comfortable there the entire time, which was great considering how I had no idea wha to expect in terms of treatment of foreigners, specifically black foreigners. Tokyo was sooo amazing, and everyone should get there now before the secret is out after the 2020 Olympics!